I'm fielding requests from friends for my personal favorites and recommends in Paris and Rome. Spring brings busy travel schedules for the lucky. One thing that I detest in a waiter is this:
me: what's do you think is the best thing on the menu?
he/she: depends on what you like.
me: steely gaze. silence.
he/she: if you like fish, or beef, or.....
me: wide eyed stare.
he/she: it just depends on what you like. what the best is.
he/she: we have a lot of great things on the menu!
me: (very quietly) what is your personal favorite?
what do you like on this menu?
I think the ideal travel adventure, anywhere, centers around your interests. In both these cases, Rome and Paris, I would ask, do you like history? art? architecture? food? fashion? shopping? music? other?
And the answers to those questions are found in the best of any city. What to see in Paris and Rome? It's all there. Depends on what matters to you.
he/she: (shifting nervously to other foot) (putting pen and pad at side) well ME personally you wanna know what I like right? yeah okay, I think the ribs are the best thing here and for the appetizers, I like....
So. Here it is with no apologies. Take your pick. Paris: the perfect day in Paris is spent at Les Halles, wandering around the markets and culinary arts stores. Duthilleul & Minart on Rue de Turbigo is an institution in Paris for commercial cooking clothes and apparently has been for generations. Really interesting place. Next: the Marais for the museum of Paris, Hotel et Musee Carnavalet. So much of French Revolution remains in Paris. You can see where they ripped off pieces of sculpture from walls of Notre Dame in a complete fury. This museum tells you the story. The Bastille no longer stands. This museum tell you why. It's utterly fascinating and gives you the 411 on Paris, then and now. Stop in at Josephine Vannier on your way over to St Paul-St Louis. Mme. Vannier makes chocolate. She always has something that's Valentine's or fall harvest or for whatever the season is. If I hated chocolate, I'd still go. She's an artist. It' a gallery. I love it. St Paul-St Louis is the Parisian Il Jesu and looks very much like the real Il Jesu. For me, it's a don't miss. I have never been to Paris without stopping in here. The love the feel of the parish life in this church.
I love a stroll up St-Honore. The stores. The French White House. The American Embassy. LOVE IT.
Catch Blvd de Sebastopol back over the bridge to Ste-Chapelle. This church, this ~* is really hard to me to explain. If there was one and one only place I would go in Paris, it would be here. The most astounding thing in all of Paris. Maybe France. You can spend 3 hours there, slack jawed. I am fairly sophsticated when it comes to churches and museums but this place still leaves me speechless. And then you know what? as you are going on the door, utterly exhausted, wholely, deeply, seriously overstimulated, there is just one little thing or deal that puts you into yet another involuntary gasp and leaves your mouth wide open. If I remember, this costs in excess of 10E, which will put it just south of 15$. I would pay. And if given a choice between here and the Louvre, I'd go here.
Keep going on the same bridge you came in on and go over to St-Germain to the Abbaye de Cluney. As you hit the Boulevard after crossing the bridge, you turn right towards the Eiffel Tower, Tour Eiffel, and follow it to Blvd St-Michel and turn left. You'll see it. I know I said what I just said above about Ste-Chappelle, but Hotel de Cluny is my favorite place is all of Paris. Enjoy. By now, it's 2 in the morning and you'll be all alone. Only kidding. It's a jam-packed day but you can do it. I do.
I'd go Marais/Les Halles/St-Honore/Ste-Chappelle/Abbaye de Cluney.
Rome. Rome. oh my. Here's the thing about Rome and about any city: you see the most and see the best stuff when you walk. It's quite tempting to take a tour or hire a car, but I'd cab and walk. I would. First, I'd cab up to San Pietro in Vincoli on the Esquiline Hill. This is my favorite in Rome. The chains that bound Peter in his martyrdom are there as is Michelangelo's Moses and the Pope Julius tomb, the Holy Grail of Michangelo's career. Moses is my favorite sculpture in all of Rome. It's spooky, it's energized, it's real. It's real. I love this church. Santa Maria Maggiore is also on the Esquiline hill but unless churches are your die hard passion, I'd skip it and walk down the hill toward the Colosseum. You pass the Forum and I would definitely go in. There is much there, beware. Don't try to absorb and integrate each piece, but rather take it as a whole . You can read about it later--every part of it is documented widely along with much commentary. It's awesome. Head over to the Colosseum. It's become quite the tourist attraction in the last 10 years, to my dismay. I'd still go and I'd still pay. 10? 15? E? It's worth it because you understand how ancient Rome recreated and considering they were the civilized of the civilized, you begin to see things in a new light....
It's midday now and you are foolish indeed if you don't observe the local custom of an extended lunch and perhaps a nap. Many places are closed for several hours during the day. The local customs I would not ignor are honor and respect for the Italian language: look up a few phrases and use them. You will make friends. The Italians love to hear you speak their language. As well, dress. This is the city and the Italians and dress up, buff up and groom people. If you honor them in this manner, they will show you their wildly generous side. Wait and see!
Finally, I don't use public transportation in Rome because of the pick pockets and the Gypsies. I walk everywhere and cab if I have to.
Strolling the piazzas is the most delicious of pasttimes in Rome. Goto the Pantheon, don't miss the Pantheon, and then stroll the Piazza di Sant Ignazio. The Spanish Steps is a beautiful sight, although I like them early in the morning when they are not littered with tourists. Stroll the Piazza del Popolo and cafe, but beware, Rome is sooooo expensive. Don't order water and sip the expresso. It will work out. Never leave a cafe without using the toilet. The public toilets in Italy are... well...I don't use them. The Via Condotti emanates from the Piazza di Spagna and has much of the high end shopping in Rome. Rome is not a good shopping city, by the way.
I love the Campo de' Fiori and highly recommend it. Just strolling around. Head to the Piazza Navona for the most beautiful fountain in all of Rome, Italy maybe: Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers. sigh. sigh. sigh. Also, you can drink the water in all the fountains of Rome. It's pure and fresh. Comes from the mountains and hills outide Rome through the aquaducts the Romans built. Unreal.
All the piazzas are lined with churches and museums and shops and cafes. The people watching is second to none. The beautiful, contemplative life style of the Italians is in high evidence here and you are smack dab in one of the most congested, polluted cities in the world. But to me, this is one of the true essences of Rome. I loves me some Piazzas.
You have to see St. Peters and Vatican City. My favorite is to sit at one of the cafes on Via Conciliazione and sip coffee and watch the people. Bellisimo. You will see one of everything. St. Peter's is a mondo tourist experience these days so you can't get there early enough in the morning. I always stay in Vaticano, get over there at 5:30 and walk about and then leave for the day as the tourists bein to arrive at 7 am. I flat leave. When I come about 8 or 9, it is dark and very, very quiet. The Vatican Museum is splendid. You'll need to be there no later than 7 am. Audiences with The Holy See are on Wednesdays in the Piazza but you'll need tickets. The Vatican Museum/ticket office can help you and are terrific on the phone.
I think that stroll out from St Peter's along Via Conciliazione out to Castel Sant'Angelo is absolutely second to none and will situate you perfectly to cross the bridge to the Spanish Steps or the Piazza Navona. I don't do a lot of shopping in Rome so I can't give you my favorites for shopping areas. I just buy what I like, wherever I am. I would not miss the Trevi Fountain. The Pantheon. Il Jesu. I love Trastevere. Ara Pacis.
It will be nice and warm/hot when at this time of year. You should remember to have a shawl to cover your bare shoulders or arms. Short skirts won't get you in. Shorts, neither. Local custom. Beware of lines. Dio Mio, the lines. You are going to have suuuuuch a wonderful time.
The 'Kan EWA